Undergraduate Dissertation Prize 2022 Announcement

The Carceral Geographies Working Group and Advisory Board are pleased to announce the winner of our 2022 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize:

Flora Farthing, Durham University: “Re-entry as ‘Punishment’s twin’: An exploration of the contemporary post-release carceral environment.”

We wish to congratulate all nominees for producing excellent dissertations under very challenging circumstances. The selection panel was impressed by the depth and care with which these students treated their research, their engagement with carceral geography literatures, and the insights they drew from their rich empirical research. These dissertations presented us with the best of undergraduate research and the decision was a difficult one.

The review panel was especially impressed with Flora’s methodology and, especially, the richly detailed analysis of people’s experiences of re-entry. Combined with her engagement with multiple facets of carceral geographies literature, Flora’s analysis generated original insights about the diffusion of carcerality beyond prisons. The review committee felt that these insights have the potential to contribute to emerging work exploring carcerality beyond detention and show the ability to engage in cutting-edge research. Congratulations, Flora.

Dissertation abstract:

Abstract: Situated within the prevailing environment UK of high rates of incarceration, this dissertation explores the re-entry experiences of former offenders. Highlighting the extent to which the carceral is continuously felt and re-enforced, through various institutional and societal practises and spaces, despite their release from prison. Whilst also illuminating the relationship between the pervasive nature of the carceral within society and the carceral ‘churn’ which is prevalent within the contemporary UK environment; encapsulating the revolving nature of incarceration. This dissertation presents the potential of penal voluntary organisations as a ‘glimmer’ of hope within the bleak re-entry landscape, supporting former offenders and subsequently aiding in their disentanglement from the pervasive carceral webs that emanate from institutional and societal means of control.

Carceral Geography at the IGU2016, Beijing

Rethinking Carceral Geography in ‘Harmonised Societies’

The 33rd International Geographical Congress (IGC) of the International Geographical Union (IGU) will be held in Beijing, China, on 21-25
August 2016.

Claudio Minca and Chin-Ee Ong are seeking papers for their session on Rethinking Carceral Geography in ‘Harmonised Societies’ organised under the IGU Political Geography Commission (C.33). Their call is as follows:


In recent years, geographers have contributed to the understanding of spaces of surveillance, violence and control (Moran, 2015; Philo, 2012) and
have located such geographical inquiries in camps (Minca & Ong, 2015; Minca, 2015), prisons (Minca & Ong, 2015) and inmate transportation (Moran, Piacentini, & Pallot, 2012). This session first seeks to rethink the role of carceral geography within the context of discourses endorsing and promoting reconciliation and harmony in society. Specifically, we ask whether carceral spaces and notions and practices of control, discipline and punishment have a place in what may be termed ‘harmonious societies’ historically, at present, and in the future. While the notion of ‘harmonious societies’ may have found currency and usage in discourses articulated by politicians, its tendencies towards non-antagonistic consensus presents critical questions for carceral spatialities. Should a harmonious society preserve and remember its past spaces of discipline and violence? What role do current and future carceral spaces play in a harmonious society (if at all)? Are control, discipline and detention key functions for a harmonious society?

We are therefore interested in papers engagging with the following sub-themes:

· Reconceptualising the ‘carceral’ and the ‘carceral spaces’;

· The biopolitics of detention;

· Spatial technologies of incarceration;

· Geographies of detention, custody and care;

· Control, surveillance and society;

· Prisons, asylums, camps and quasi-carceral spatialities.

· ‘Carceral spaces’ after the prison:

· Post-carceral politics of memory, forgetting and representation;

· Post-carceral geographies of heritage and of tourism;

· The power of place: cultural histories of past spatialities of violence.

Enquiries regarding the session may be directed to Chin-Ee Ong (geooce@nus.edu.sg) or Claudio Minca (claudio.minca@wur.nl). Please submit abstracts of not more than 250 words through the conference website at http://www.igc2016.org/dct/page/70047.

The deadline is Monday, 15 February 2016. Please note that: (i) titles should consist of no more than 20 words; (ii) no abbreviations are to be
used in titles; and (iii) please be sure to include no more than 10 key words. We will get in touch regarding acceptance by 16 April 2016.

*Panel Conveners:*

Professor Claudio Minca, Wageningen University, the Netherlands (claudio.minca@wur.nl) and

Dr Chin-Ee Ong, National University of Singapore, Singapore, (geooce@nus.edu.sg).

Carceral Geographies at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Chicago, IL

by Jen Turner

The recent meeting of the AAG was a very fruitful event for those interested in carceral geographies, with some of the offerings in the sub-discipline comprising of the six paper sessions and panel session organised by myself and Dominique Moran. Held over two of the five days in the conference programme, the quality and variety of papers is testament to the ongoing vibrancy of the area of carceral geographies.

In the first session on “Theorisations of Confinement”, Christophe Mincke began proceedings with his paper entitled Prison: Legitimacy Through Mobility? Mincke scrutinised the relationship between prison and mobility (and the counterpart societal relations that render this problematic) to interrogate the notion of a continuum of carceral mobilities. His case study surrounding the Belgian Prison Act considered the flow and activity of spaces of incarceration. Continuing this theme, Kimberley Peters (with co-author Jennifer Turner) called for a consideration of carceral mobility that extends beyond horizontal motion in her ‘Unlock the volume’: bringing height and depth to carceral mobilities. Peters and Turner’s theorisation of volumetric carceral mobilities is drawn from archival research into voyages on board convict ships transporting prisoners to colonies in Australia in the early nineteenth century. In the final paper of this session, Stephanie Figgins took a lead from Matthew Mitchelson’s notion of bedspace in her paper Between the Sheets of the U.S. Deportation Regime. Figgins illustrated how the detention state can become numerically evaluated according to cost and availability of single bed units and detailed measures by which detainees were treated with negative associations of “docile and lazy” spaces of sleep. Acting as our first discussant, Nick Gill commented upon the variety of rich methods for theorising different aspects of movement and evaluation practices across these different carceral spaces. Gill was particularly keen to see methodological innovation for carceral geographers in order to reflect the advancement of theorisations in these areas.

The second paper session very clearly adhered to its guiding themes of “Prison Architecture and Design”. Gideon Boie turned again to Belgium in Prison Up Close: the new subject of a penitentiary spatial structure. Detailing the development of the highly contested prison masterplan, he exemplified the proposed Huizen (“houses”) which would encompass small-scale residential complexes outside of the traditional prison perimeter. Boie presented a very hopeful future for humane prison design where architects had a social responsibility for developments. In contrast, Dominique Moran (presenting work co-authored by Jennifer Turner and Yvonne Jewkes) observed how prison design in the UK disrupts notions in architectural geographies of a creative architect playing a central role in building production. In Becoming big things: Building events and the architectural geographies of incarceration in England and Wales, Moran appraised processes of commissioning and tendering, as well as design and modelling which combines to restrict the function of architects in the design process and limits their involvement in the final prison product. Taking note of these practices to produce homogenous and replicable prison spaces, I presented my paper Components of the carceral: The lived experience of prison design (which was also co-authored with Dominique and Yvonne). Here, I considered the implications of these one-size-fits-all design policies upon the irrational and non-normative bodies that these spaces house, calling for attention to the microarchitectures of prison space. Finally, taking a more positive tract, Fie Vandamme introduced a project comprising focus groups with prisoners exploring their responses to different design choices. Entitled Fit IN Stand OUT: Rules and Elements for Humane Prison Architecture, Vandamme’s paper explained how ten rules for prison design had evolved from this participatory research. These included everything from ownership over cell door keys to re-thinking spaces such as landings and corridors. In summarising these papers Lauren Martin raised questions about whether prison design can indeed engineer a way to rehabilitation and encouraged consideration of these potential counterarguments. Beyond innovation of prison design itself, Martin asked whether carceral geographers should have a role in suggesting the reduction of the prison estate as an alternative solution.

Orisanmi Burton presented first in the session entitled “Activity, Agency and Organisation”. The Politics of Containment: Prison-Based Activism in the Empire State focussed upon the ideas and practices of the Black Consciousness Coalition (BCC), an activist organisation that operates within a men’s prison in New York State. Burton’s correspondence with BCC leadership formed the basis for this paper, generating important questions about the kind of politics that can practiced by serving prisoners within carceral space due to censorship and negotiation of these restrictions. Lloyd Gray drew upon his interests in prisoner education to explore prisoner perceptions of this area. His paper was entitled How do prisoners experience and perceive the education environment within a prison? An interpretative phenomenological analysis approach. Using empirical data from interviews conducted with prisoners involved with education programmes, Gray interrogated the positive associations beyond the classroom that such involvement may generate. Geraldine Brown and Elizabeth Bos introduced their paper, A holistic evaluation of delivering a community based food growing mentoring programme in a prison setting with substance misuse offenders on behalf of their colleagues (including Geraldine Brady) at the University of Coventry. Their paper detailed the positive results of the Master Gardener Programme introduced in a male prison in the Midlands of the UK. Participants were asked to assess their own recovery journey through the development of personal ‘circles of change’ through the identification of points of change. Acting as discussant Shaul Cohen praised the research conducted by all presenters in being able to achieve meaningful interaction with serving prisoners. These collaborative data generation projects would potentially aid much fruitful research which could help discern what is happening in these activities within prison, further revealing the how and why of activity and organisation within the carceral setting.

In “Gendered and Embodied ConfinementVictoria Knight’s paper Modus Vivendi: The cell, emotions, social relations and television considered the treaty or resolve prisoners might undertake in their negotiation of television-watching in shared cell spaces. Attending to the politics of scheduling and taste, Knight also interrogated the legitimisation of television access as a means of ensuring safety and appropriate cell-sharing. Jessica Bird’s paper Segregation in Scottish Prisons: A Socio-Spatial History demonstrated a recognition of geographical scholarship in the recent carceral past. The paper detailed a breadth of interests from her wider PhD thesis including a charting of architectural design from community to cellular confinement, through to the designation by prisoners of spaces of imprisonment as ‘war zones’, ‘graves’, ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘creative spaces’. William Payne provided a unique empirical example in Governmentality, performativity and sexuality – A scholarly consideration of a drag show in a prison. Focussing upon the area of the Sally Port (the area between the prison gate and the prison inside proper) he posited this space as a kind of borderland in which a complex relationship of scrutiny, surveillance and (paradoxically) movement all at once occurs. Rae Rosenberg examined transcultural identities in carceral geography through a paper entitled Transgender Embodiment in Carceral Space: Hypermasculinity and the US Prison Industrial Complex. Rosenberg recounted restrictions imposed upon transgender prisoners such as upon their physical appearance (being forced to cut hair and nails) and access to hormones. Surprisingly, his paper detailed occasions of hope and resistance whereby prisoners successfully harnessed their chosen identities through imaginative mobilities to outside space through prisoner artwork. These underlying hopeful messages were central to the summary suggestions outlined by Karen Morin. Recognising the importance of gender and embodiment in all aspects of carceral scholarship Morin drew all four papers together through purposeful activities prisoners were involved with in each of the four papers: creative enterprise, communication, negotiation and collaboration in such restrictive spaces.

In the first of two sessions focussing on “(Re)defining Boundaries”, Elizabeth Bos and Geraldine Brown returned to the case study of the Master Gardener Programme. Here their paper, We were there too: Reflexive experiences of evaluating a prison gardening intervention negotiated the complex subject of researcher positionality in the prison setting. Drawing upon their own ethnographic data, Bos and Brown interrogated the specific role of gender, religion and race in their research project. Following this, Dana Cuomo’s paper Incarceration and domestic violence: Perspectives from victims on the outside offered an analysis of public and private violence, questioning the role of incarceration for domestic violence offenders. Using qualitative data gathered during fieldwork in a domestic violence unit of a local police department, this paper examined the experiences of women following the incarceration of their abusive partners. In the following paper, Tony Sparks noted how the punitive turn in urban policy more broadly has been accompanied by an expansion by spaces of care and rehabilitation, especially as cities have come to question mass incarceration. His paper, entitled The Asylum is on These Streets: Managing Mental Illness in the Carceral Community drew upon court records, interviews, and ethnographic fieldwork conducted within San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court to explore the ways in which ideals of community and community care are imbricated within broader logics of confinement and governmental control. In the final paper of the session, Avril Maddrell introduced The charity shop, permeable carceral spaces, gendered power relations, reparation and rehabilitation. Here, she introduced in-depth interview data from a ten-year review of a scheme employing prisoners upon day release in charity shops (thrift stores). Her paper utilised the concept of ‘bordering’ to interrogate the permeable and impermeable spaces and boundaries of what constitutes prison and the vernacularisation of carceral processes. By way of final conclusion to a successful day of papers, I had the opportunity to act as discussant. By pulling these four papers together around the theme of the session, it is clear that there is a wealth of opportunity to consider how the prison border may be conceptualised. How does the boundary come to be positive or negative, depending on the circumstances? These papers also raised questions about how researchers traverse such boundaries and the potentiality of such projects to inform/transform the lived experience of carceral space.


The second day of sessions was opened by Oriane Simon in our closing paper session focussing again upon “(Re)defining Boundaries”. Her paper entitled Extraordinary Rendition’s Transfers in Ambiguous Spaces was a powerful interrogation of the process of movement of these detainees itself, focusing upon the importance of the body in, for example, resisting such things as sensory deprivation during transport. Following this Vanessa Massaro’s paper (read in absentia) focused upon Prison’s revolving door and the porous boundaries of carceral spaces. By exemplifying the similarities between neighbourhood blocks and prison cell blocks, Massaro considered the reproduction of spaces from the ‘inside’ on the outside fuelled by drug activities. In doing so, this paper powerfully argues for continued attention to carceral spaces beyond the boundaries of the institution. Our final paper of the series was delivered by Stephen Sherman, who turned our attention in the direction of GIS to interrogate Why Drug-Free School Zones are Bad for Communities: Evaluating sentence enhancement zone outcomes across urban forms. Here Sherman demonstrated how policy – here the implementation of Drug-Free Zones – creates nodes of carcerality. By criminalising certain activities in particular areas, these policies introduce geographical spaces where individuals are more likely to be incarcerated. Dominique Moran as discussant shared a number of common themes between the three papers, including the recognition of multiple spaces and overlapping jurisdictions of carceral spaces; the significance of transfers between such spaces; and the constant state of becoming evident in the carceral state and its practices. This raised a number of pertinent questions including those of what a carceral identity might consist of and what indeed it may adhere to.

Our final session, featured Shaul Cohen, Deirdre Conlon, Nick Gill and Dominique Moran in a panel on the subject of “Future Directions in Carceral Geographies”. In this session, panellists were asked to say a few words to situate carceral geographies within the wider discipline/alongside other disciplines and suggest areas for forthcoming attention. Beginning proceedings, Deirdre Conlon noted the encouraging attention to social, cultural, active and embodied carceral geographies – as evidenced clearly in the programme of these sessions. However, she invited scholars to (re)consider political and economic elements and their complex relationships with these other aspects. Conlon also asked carceral geographers to think about the interplay between detention centres and prisons, particularly because, firstly, the immigrant detention population is growing and, secondly, it is the site where privatisation first began. She called for research that attended specifically to migrant detainees in mainstream prisons. Continuing the discussion, Shaul Cohen posed the suggestion of people inside prison having a more active role in shaping research design, since there are insights that only people living and working within prison can have. Cohen encouraged more of these collaborations within the research design process. Cohen also noted that the prison is still often invisible to both “authorities and the ordinary”. His hope is that carceral geographers would consider the constituencies for their outputs; making policy-makers and prison administrators the targets for such research in the hope that they can be educated in how things might be different. Nick Gill echoed the preceding panellists and began his comments with an illustration of the detention centre The Verne, opened in the UK in 2014. Previously a prison, it had its security level increased and is now used to house detainees in a very peripheral location in the UK and raises some important issues. Gill considered that the importance of space, location and mobility is not necessarily known by the authorities. Judges pass sentences in terms of time, not space, and this does not take into account how hard a sentence may be in certain areas. He encouraged us to consider the symbolic aspects of location of prison. He also called for a disruption of a myth of consistency – prisons may indeed be different due to the local community, the local market conditions, the local culture, and the social injustices that may be generated by this. Gill’s second area of interest was a consideration of punishment and justice more generally. Academics (and those beyond it) ought to have a serious conversation about the role of punishment – should people be punished for the things they have done? Finally, Gill considered the role of academic research and the importance of making a difference to the current situation. He exemplified the actions of the Detention Forum in being able to prompt the first parliamentary enquiry into immigrant detention, and this should be an aim we should aspire to. However, he noted barriers to this, such as scholars being able to carve out the time to write activist responses when they are not valued by academia (REF outputs, etc). Furthermore, there may be a critical response to activism and a question of whether and when it is right to engage in this way. Dominique Moran shared some similar concerns, reminding the audience that imprisonment is not essential – we have not imprisoned in the past as we do now. We should be encouraged to pay attention to sentencing and courts to consider why society chooses to put people in jail. These considerations should extend critically to differences between UK and US policy for example. Moran also asked that we consider the purpose of our research in the carceral setting. In her experience, the prison authorities were much more open to discussions of change, but any of this impact is hard to measure (academically) and often difficult to harness at the political level, but it is there.

It is apparent, through the quality of papers being delivered, the attendance to sessions, and the lively and energetic response to presenters and panellists that research activity in carceral geography is maintaining buoyancy within geography. As such, panellists agreed that maintaining an informal network would be beneficial to those working in this area. As such, five years after it started, this blog is going collective! This means that it will be open for anyone interested in sharing thoughts and ideas, reflections, notifications, calls for papers, etc., here, to do so. If you’re interested in participating please get in touch. Furthermore, a mail list for carceral geography has now been set up via jiscmail. You can subscribe here. For those who are familiar with CRIT-GEOG-FORUM, this mail list will work pretty much like that one. It will be archived on the jiscmail website.  So, please do subscribe to this and use it to alert other subscribers to new research, CFP, conferences, events, to start discussions, etc. It’s perhaps most useful for quick things for which you don’t want to spend the time writing a blog piece!

Finally, I’d like to extend my thanks to all presenters, discussants, panellists and audience members who all contributed to a very enjoyable and thought-provoking conference programme. I look forward to hearing more from you all in the future!

Sharing cells and prison crowding – managing carceral space

The recent announcement from the UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling that dozens of already full prisons would have to accommodate more inmates because the prison population is growing faster than expected, has caused widespread concern and consternation. Forty prisons in England and Wales have been told to raise their “operational capacity” in the next two months, although apparently all but six of these are are already running at full capacity, or are overcrowded. Grayling described the move as an indication that he was taking “sensible steps to make sure we can accommodate everyone”.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, criticised the state of prisons in England and Wales, and claimed that “political and policy failure” was behind dangerous overcrowding in publicly-run jails, in a context of the recent closure of 18 prisons in the UK as a cost-cutting measure which itself has attracted recent criticism.

The concerns over overcrowding and cell-sharing are well-founded, and have been widely debated in the media in recent weeks, for example in this piece in The Guardian which highlights the danger of cell sharing in a context of high levels of mental health problems, which can themselves arguably be exacerbated by close confinement. On the other hand, solitary confinement is also known to be extremely damaging – as this recent piece from the US on the damage done to the teenage brain by time in solitary demonstrates.

Whilst the policy context of overcrowding is impossible to ignore, and whilst the problems it causes are inexcusable, it is perhaps worth considering the insights provided by recent research into cell sharing and prison crowding, which offer some suggestions as to the ways in which more careful management of prison spaces may offer some relief from the psychological pressures of shared space.

At the heart of the problem of cell sharing is the notion of privacy. Using Altman’s model of privacy, the issue is the changing need that people have both for solitude, and for interaction with others. Optimal privacy is not necessarily being alone, but having the ability to control when to be alone and when to have company – whether in intimate relationships, as anonymity in a crowd, or reserve when withdrawn into oneself. Forced isolation is different from elective solitude, of course. Prison reduces, if not totally removes, the ability for inmates to control the nature of their social interaction, through the ways in which they are accommodated; in dormitories, in shared (or crowded) cells, or in isolation – each of which imposes a certain type of social contact which may be intolerable for some, or most, or indeed all, of the time for the individuals concerned.

To an extent this is unavoidable, in institutions that need to maintain order, and reduce the propensity for unrest, but it is worth noting that the ways in which carceral spaces are managed can have a mitigating effect on their potentially damaging nature. For example, where prisoners share cells, in which basic privacy norms are violated by enforced proximity, carefully managing access to communal or outside space can enable some relief from this situation. As Bogard and Wener (2007) noted, in their study of a prison in which the sharing of cells meant that the dayroom was too small for all the prisoners to occupy it at once, policy was to allow half the prisoners access to the dayroom at a time. How this half was chosen, though, had significant implications for prisoners’ welfare. Prisoners from an upper tier of cells were first allowed out, and when they returned to their cells, prisoners from the lower tier replaced them in the dayroom. Neither set of prisoners, therefore, was offered the opportunity for solitude in the cells which had been designed for occpancy by one person. As an alternative, allowing one prisoner from each cell, both upper and lower, into the dayroom at a time, would have offered the opportunity for ‘in time’ to represent solitude, privacy, and relief for the prisoner remaining in the cell, whilst ‘out time’ was enjoyed by his cellmate.

In his research on privacy in French prisons Olivier Milhaud reported the pressures of cell sharing, as described by inmates:  

When there are two of you [in the same cell], it is overcrowding. There is always someone with you. Whenever you eat, wash yourself, go to the toilet, cry, there are always two of you. There is no privacy. It is difficult… It’s very small. If you are with someone else, you have no privacy. You feel stress, anguish. I can’t bear it.… one of you is shitting and you, you are eating. One is peeing and you are eating. There are many things to endure. (Milhaud and Moran 2013, 172).

Although the strategy of releasing cell inmates one at a time was not in place in the prisons he studied, he found that when given the opportunity to leave their shared cells, some prisoners would forgo ‘out time’ for the chance to remain in the cell alone, enjoying some elective solitude. 

Wener (2012) argues that the absence of privacy in prison has become such an accepted norm, that changing approaches and management to enable it is simply not thought of often enough. However, if the crowding of prison cells in the UK is, as the Justice Secretary suggests, to become more common, it is imperative that its significant negative effects are mitigated by careful consideration of the management of carceral space.

How do U.S. states’ use of the prison compare globally? New infographic from ‘Prison Policy Initiative’

Many thanks to Leah Sakala from Prison Policy Initiative for alerting me to their newest report. This report is the first to directly situate individual U.S. states’ incarceration practices in the global context.

The press release asks ‘how does your state compare to the international community when it comes to the use of incarceration?’ Not very well, says the new infographic and report by the Prison Policy Initiative and data artist Josh Begley.

This report, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context” recognizes that while there are important differences between how US states handle incarceration, incarceration policy in every region of the country is out of step with the rest of the world. The report and infographic draws international figures on incarceration from the International Centre for Prison Studies and state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It is essential to focus on the incarceration practices of individual states,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.  “Most criminal justice policy decisions are made at the state level and the vast majority of the people locked up are locked up for violating state laws,”

“Compared to Louisiana, most U.S. states appear to have reasonable rates of incarceration, but it is disturbing to see where these ‘reasonable’ states stack up in the broader carceral landscape,” said data-artist and co-author Josh Begley.

Reminder: Research and the Relations between Prison and Detention: ESRC Seminar 20th June 2014

8-2754esrc-logoBy bringing together a range of established academics, early-career academics, postgraduates, practitioners, artists, activists and former detainees this seminar series will investigate the ways in which the UK experience of detention reflects and re-produces the contradictory logics inherent in modern global detention practices. Through five one-day workshop events the seminar series will span the academic disciplines of criminology, geography, politics and sociology in order to examine the phenomenon of detention as it relates to supporting detainees, penology and prisons, everyday experiences of detention and the politics of, and resistance to, detention practices. The seminars, to be held in London, York, Birmingham, Oxford and Lancaster will also reflect upon the ethical/methodological challenges that the study of detention produces and the tension, running throughout work in this area, between outright resistance to detention practices or a reformist approach based on working with the state on behalf of immigration detainees.

The Birmingham seminar will focus on the challenges of research in spaces of imprisonment and detention.

ESRC Seminar Series: Exploring Everyday Practice and Resistance in Immigration Detention

Research and the Relations between Prison and Detention

University of Birmingham, UK, Friday 20th June 2014

10.00: Arrival and coffee

10.30: Welcome and opening comments

10.40: Can Yıldız (Kings College London) Spatiality and temporality in prison for foreign national prisoners

11.00: David Maguire (University of Oxford) Inside Job: Dilemmas, Exploits and Exploitation of a Prison ‘Insider’

Response: Marie Hutton (University of Birmingham)

12.00: Lunch

1.00 : Bénédicte Michalon and Djemila Zeneidi (CNRS – Université Bordeaux 3, France) Research in constrained contexts: methodological issues and challenges

2.15: Concluding comments

2.30: Tea

Attendance is free but places are limited. To attend please click here.

Prison Life: Inside and Out – Event at the University of Birmingham 19 March 2014

Prison Life: Inside and Out

This event, part of the University of Birmingham’s Arts & Science Festival 2014 showcases multi-disciplinary research exploring aspects of prison life – ranging from prison visitation and recidivism, pathways to imprisonment, the impact of imprisonment on prisoners’ families, and the difficulties prisoners face following release.

Speakers include Louise Dixon (School of Psychology), Marie Hutton (School of Geography), Karen Graham (School of Education) and Garry Henry (practitioner). These speakers will be followed by an opportunity for questions and audience discussion.

When: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Where: Law Building, Lecture Room 2 (R1 on the campus map)

Attendance is FREE, but please register by clicking here or by contacting Marie Hutton directly at m.a.hutton@bham.ac.uk

Carceral Geography at the AAG 2014: Historical Geographies of Prisons and Jails… and more

logo_aagKaren Morin and I have coorganised two themed sessions at the forthcoming Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in April, in Tampa, FL, USA. Entitled “Historical Geographies of Prisons and Jails I & II”, the two sessions address the following brief:

What have historical geographers contributed to discussions of incarceration – what prison spaces, knowledges, and practices have caught our attention, and why? Following on last year’s AAG Historical Geography plenary, “Carceral Space and the Usable Past,” these sessions bring together the work of historical geographers, as well as those who use historical-geographical logics and perspectives, to examine conceptions of crime, regimes of punishment, and their corresponding spaces of “corrections” and confinement. Broadly, the sessions aim to incorporate a historical-spatial focus into the study of correctional institutions (prisons and jails) and their larger social contexts. Relevant treatments of prison/jail space include: 1) historical study of the nature of spaces of incarceration, individuals’ experiences in them, and their regulatory regimes and systems of punishment; 2) historical study of the spatial or distributional/ locational geographies of carceral systems, particularly with respect to their impact on community economic development and local geographies; and 3) study of the historical relationship between the carceral and an increasingly punitive state. Historical geographers can inform, and be informed by, these three areas of carceral geography that we like to term, after Tosh, “critical applied historical geography” that can be put in action for progressive social transformation.

The first session, scheduled for Wednesday, 4/9/2014, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM in Room 30B, TCC, Fourth Floor, lines up as follows:

8:00 AM   *Kimberley Peters and Jennifer Turner – Aberystwyth University Unlocking the Carceral Atmospheric: Extraordinary Encounters at the Prison Museum

8:20 AM   Susana Draper – Princeton University Cartographies of memory and the poetics of an architecture of the affects

8:40 AM   Katie Hemsworth – Queen’s University Sound(e)scapes: Historical geographies of sound in Canadian prisons

9:00 AM   Cheryl Nye – Georgia State University The Sacred and Profane: Re-building Familial and Social Relationships in the Confines of the Prison

9:20 AM   Dominique Moran – University of Birmingham (Discussant)

and the second, following immediately on at 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM in Room 30B, TCC, Fourth Floor, looks like this:

10:00 AM   *Jennifer Turner and Kimberley Peters – Aberystwyth University Shackled at Sea: Geographies of Mobility and Agency on the Convict Ship

10:20 AM    Jack Norton – CUNY Graduate Center  Little Siberia, Star of the North: The Political Economy of Prison Dreams in the Adirondacks

10:40 AM   Carol Medlicott – Northern Kentucky University  Prisoners in Zion: Shaker Sites as Foundations for Later Communities of Incarceration

11:00 AM   Treva C. Ellison – University of Southern California  The End(s) of Inclusion: The Impact of LGBT Activism and Advocacy on Sensitivity Policing and Gender and Sexuality Responsive Jailing, 1970 – 1997

11:20 AM   Anne Bonds – University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (Discussant)

Karen and I are excited about these sessions and about the dialogues we hope they will engender.

However, for carceral geographers there are many more papers of interest in Tampa. I’m also looking forward to Anthony Stanonis’ paper on Gated Communities: Tourism and Prisons in the American South, Alex R. Colucci’s The Geographies of Death Row: Capital Punishment and Living-Dead Labor within Capitalism, Timothy C. Kelleher on Optimality Modeling New Prison Siting, Richard Merritt and Scott Hurley’s Invisible Geographies: Violence and Oppression in the Prison-Industrial Complex and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and Anne Bonds’  Enduring Incarceration: Gender, Racial Capitalism, and ‘Prison life’

And, from a grey Birmingham, here’s hoping for some Florida sunshine…

Distance matters, no matter what the context : distance and punishment

Regular readers of this blog (I’m told there are some…. thank you) will recognise the themes that appeal to me most when picking up stories from the press. As a geographer, anything to do with space and distance immediately leaps out, and today’s coverage in the UK press of intentions to imprison female inmates in England and Wales closer to their homes and families (part of a suite of policies which includes local resettlement prisons), is exactly one of those stories.

According to the BBC, Lord McNally, the coalition government Justice Minister, has said that female prisoners in England and Wales will serve their sentences nearer to where they live in a bid to cut reoffending: “When a female offender walks out of the prison gates, I want to make sure she never returns,” he said. “Keeping female prisoners as close as possible to their homes, and importantly their children, is vital if we are to help them break the pernicious cycle of re-offending. And providing at least a year of support in the community – alongside the means to find employment on release – will give them the best possible chance to live productive, law abiding lives”. The Ministry of Justice’s intention that female inmates will maintain family relationships and improve their job prospects before leaving jail is laudable, but was immediately critiqued by the opposition Labour party, with Sadiq Khan claiming that “With only a small number of scattered women’s prisons, the concept of local resettlement is almost meaningless”.

The issue of distance and punishment has been a recurring theme in my own work. Although I looked at this initially in relation to women in prison in the Russian Federation (with colleagues – details here), a context in which the distances from home at which some women can be incarcerated are staggering – it’s clear from the UK example that distance really matters, regardless of scale. In Russia, the small number of colonies for women, and the fact that women with infants can, theoretically for their own benefit, be sent to distant prison colonies that have ‘mother and baby’ facilities for them to spend time together, means that distance is a very significant factor in the production of the carceral experience. Through a series of papers on Russia’s carceral geography and its experience, my colleagues and I have thought about the ways in which distance manifests itself in the dislocation and isolation of imprisonment for women. However, what’s clear from today’s new story in the UK is that, even though the actual distances which separate women from their children and families in the UK are significantly smaller than they are in Russia, the same problems are experienced.

One key aspect of the policy statement today, though, is the presumed link between proximity to home and family, (which is assumed to equate to the receipt of visits) and reduced reoffending. This relationship between visits and reoffending does exist empirically – longstanding empirical evidence suggests that prison visiting has a positive influence on inmates; improving their likelihood of successful reintegration on release, and thereby reducing their rates of recidivism. In criminology, the cornerstone work by Holt and Miller (1972) showed, using a series of cross-tabulations following 412 men paroled in California for a year or more, that parole outcomes were much more positive for men who had been visited while in prison. Only 2% of men who had had three or more different visitors during the year prior to parole were re-imprisoned within a year, compared to 12% of those who had had no contact with friends or family. Only half of those who had no visitors had ‘no difficulties’ on parole, compared with 70% of those with three or more visitors. Holt and Miller’s work followed decades after Ohlin’s (1954) and Glaser’s (1964) publications of research in 1920s and 1940s Illinois, showing that prisoners who ‘maintained an active family interest’ were more successful on parole than those who did not. Writing in the 1970s, Homer was at pains to point out the remarkable convergence of studies on parole and prison visiting; “…the consensus of findings should be emphasised. The strong positive relationship between strength of family-social bonds and parole success has held up for more than fifty years, across very diverse offender populations and in different locales. It is doubtful if there is any other research finding in the field of corrections which can come close to this record” (1979, 49).
However, although this effect is widely observed, the causality is poorly understood; it is presumed that the maintenance of personal relationships and the feeling of connectedness to home and community which may arise through visitation serve to smooth the passage of the released inmate through the process of reintegration after release, but this process has never been fully explored. In a current research project, Louise Dixon (U. Birmingham) and I, with our new postdoctoral researcher Marie Hutton, are exploring just what it is about visitation that leds to these positive effects, and specifically, the significance of the socio-spatial context of visiting spaces. Although we are looking at men’s imprisonment, we hope that the findings of this work will illuminate the relationship between visitation and recidivism in useful and positive ways.


Prisoners’ images in Russia and California from ‘Prison Photography’

Two fascinating posts from Prison Photography caught my eye this past week.

The first is a reference to Olga Chagaoutdinova‘s collection entitled ‘The Zone/Prisoners’  which was exhibited at Far East Museum of Fine Art, Khabarovsk, Russia, in 2006. Olga’s website reveals tantalisingly about the work behind the images, other than to say: ‘“Prisoners,” begun in 2005 and continued for two years, is a series of psychological portraits taken in a women’s prison in the Russian Far East. The intent of the project was to observe human existence in a panoptic and punishing environment. Extended interviews with the prisoners allowed me to investigate the notion of personal identity, virtually extinguished under the pressure and rules of the penal system. Gender issues and the official suppression of sexuality within the penitentiary system constituted a further aspect of my study.’ But the photographs are utterly compelling, and reminded me strongly of the women interviewed for my previous research with women incarcerated in Russia.

The other is a more contemporary piece which draws attention to an extraordinary 20 year ban on prisoners’ access to their own images in solitary confinement in California. Prisoners were banned from access to portrait images of themselves, despite the importance to families of tangible images of their loved ones – because photographs were apparently seen as potential ‘calling cards’ —” circulated by prison gang leaders — both to advise other members that they’re still in charge and to pass on orders.” The ban was eventually lifted in 2011, and in the article on which the post is based, the author Michael Montgomery quotes Sean Kernan, the former Under-Secretary of the CDCR “I think we were wrong, and I think (that) to this day,” he said. “How right is it to have an offender who is behaving … (and) to not be able to take a photo to send to his loved ones for 20 years?” Kernan directed prison staff to ease the restrictions for inmates who were free of any disciplinary violations.

As Montgomery points out, lack of access to images of themselves, a situation accentuated by the lack of mirrors in many cells, means that prisoners’ sense of identity is limited: “Some inmates complained to relatives of losing a sense of their own identity, even their own physical features. In addition to the photo ban, inmates at Pelican Bay do not have mirrors in their cells. “My brother tells me that sometimes he forgets how he looks. He doesn’t remember how he looks,” said Sylvia Rogokos of Los Angeles. Her brother, Frank Reyna, 51, was sent to Pelican Bay in 1992.”

Whilst lifting the ban is a major step forward, particularly for the prisoners’ families [“Seeing an image of their incarcerated relative for the first time in years has sparked renewed hope and revived dormant family connections. For others, the photographs are a shocking reminder of the length of time some inmates have been held in isolation.”]there is still a question of the use of prisoners’ images beyond the prison and their families. As Pete Brooks of Prison Photography points out, ‘in light of recent art market fetishism, it would seem the primary reason anyone would want to gather prison portraits would be to repeat Harper’s Books’ $45,000 hustle and cash in on the images’ He is referring to the recent sale of a collection of California prison polaroids – the ‘anonymous and previously unheard-of collection The Los Angeles Gang and Prison Photo Archive’ with an asking price of $45,000. As the post suggests, ‘if these images deserve a $45,000 price tag, they deserve a vast amount of research to uncover the stories behind them.’

Which brings us back to Olga Chagaoutdinova’s collection, where the images are evidently underpinned by discussion of the very issues raised by the portrait ban in California.

In any case, for those interested in prison images, Prison Photography is a superb resource with informed and thoughtful commentary. Take a look.